Would Pakistan be part of the 2022 football World Cup, I asked a national junior player.
The response was an uncontrolled fit of laughter followed by a statement summing up the state of football in the country: “No one is sincere with this game in Pakistan”.
The 19-year-old, who had represented Pakistan in the 2007 under-16 International AFC Cup, considered Pakistan’s football future a ‘joke’.
“There’s no money and no transparency while selecting players for club sides even,” he said. “We struggle to get into the national squad but realise soon that we’re no match for the competitors.”
It’s not like football doesn’t have a following in Pakistan. Quetta’s renovated Sadiq Shaheed witnessed 5,000 spectators for every Pakistan Premier Football League match, despite a Rs 20 ticket. As another junior player demands ‘honest and professional selectors’ with luck not being enough to make a breakthrough, a football coach, Mohammad Hassan, is also not satisfied with the existing system in place.
Pakistan’s U16 team won the 2011 Saff Championship, giving better teams a tough time. However, according to Hassan, the move to the senior squad is not a smooth one, the absence of a process that guides the youngsters a major drawback.
“There is the talk of African footballers being poor but delivering on the field, that’s because their club affairs are taken care of in a professional manner,” said Hassan. “There’s a lot of competition there and the clubs pay their players well. Only a handful clubs here pay decent salary. A lot of good footballers have given up due to this and we don’t even have decent grounds.”
Hassan supervised Pakistan’s junior teams and cited the example of their Indian counterparts who were ‘imparted training by a reputed international coach for nine months in Los Angeles’. “Without playing abroad, it’s impossible to improve the standard.”
Most of the national players are paid Rs 15,000 per month apart from a few who take home up to Rs 50,000 but there exist individuals, who have represented Pakistan in Asian Games, being paid Rs 8,000. Amounts such as those, and the lack of proper facilities, have thrown a lot of youngsters off, especially in football-mad areas such as Karachi’s Lyari.
“Lyari has produced many international footballers,” said Sajid Hussain, Karachi Port Trust’s goal-keeper. “People are crazy for the sport but the lack of resources and the authorities’ attention is forcing the teenagers to stop dreaming about football and resort to other jobs. A lot of kids are least interested in studying. With respite from the gang wars, we now need resources in the shape of football grounds, academy and respectable salary for kids to come back to football.”
The writer is a reporter for The Express Tribune
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2011.